Remembering John Madden

John Madden after leading the Oakland Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI.

Hall of Famer and video game innovator leaves marks on sports and media

John Madden didn’t invent the game of football, but he sure helped contribute to it.

The pigskin icon, who was a coach and broadcaster died Tuesday in his Bay Area home at the age of 85. Madden was an innovator in sports broadcasting, injecting enthusiasm and his knowledge and love of the game to what he did. And this from a man who didn’t have much impact as a player.

Madden was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958, but his career was cut short by a knee injury. He pivoted to coaching, and in 1969 became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders – the youngest head coach ever hired in the NFL (even though the Raiders were an AFL team, the NFL merged with the upstart rival in 1966.) After several playoff appearances, the Raiders and Madden finally broke through in 1977, winning Super Bowl XI.

After retiring in 1979, Madden became a broadcaster, joining CBS for their NFL coverage and was paired with his best-known partner Pat Summerall in 1981. Madden revolutionized the way games were called, using his telestrator to break down football plays, in an easy-to-explain manner the home viewer could understand.

When CBS lost the NFC rights to Fox in 1994, Madden and Summerall shifted to the network, giving the then-upstart instant credibility. In 2002, Madden shifted to ABC’s Monday Night Football with Al Michaels as his partner and four years later after MNF shifted to ESPN, the duo shifted to NBC to anchor Sunday Night Football. After 30 years in the booth, Madden retired after the 2008 season, with Super Bowl XLIII his final broadcast. In all, Madden was a part of twelve super bowls – one won as coach and eleven as a broadcaster. Madden is the only broadcaster to appear on all four major broadcast networks doing games. 

Madden has often said his favorite time as a broadcaster was covering the 1985 Chicago Bears, on route to a Super Bowl championship.

One thing Madden was also known for was reviving the moribund video game industry, still reeling from the 1983 “video game crash”. Electronic Arts (commonly known as EA Sports) approached Madden to develop a football video game but was not interested in doing one unless it was realistic as possible. In 1988, the first John Madden football game was released for the Apple II computer featuring eleven-on-eleven players and the first to feature real playbooks, using Madden’s Raiders playbooks. In 1993, EA acquired the NFL and NFLPA licenses, enabling Madden to use real NFL teams and players for the first time. Since then, Madden have grown into a billion-dollar franchise becoming available on just about every platform (from the Sega Genesis to the PS5) throughout its lifetime.

Madden was also known as an effective commercial pitchman, appearing in ads for Miller Lite, Rent-A-Center, Neo-Synephrine, and McDonald’s. He was also known for his fear of flying, so he usually traveled by train or other means of ground transportation to games. In later years, he began traveling in his own “Madden Cruiser”, often known as the “Madden Bus”.

In addition, Madden hosted specials revealed his “All-Madden team”, usually on or a week before Super Bowl Sunday. On Christmas Day, Fox aired an one-hour documentary on Madden’s life simply titled All Madden, including interviews with the man himself, making his final television appearance before his death. The special aired again Thursday and is being made available for streaming platforms on January 3.

As a head coach, Madden racked up a record of 103 wins and 32 losses. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2006. 


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